MLS vs. MLIS Programs: What’s the Difference?

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Updated on May 9, 2024
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MLS and MLIS programs are very similar. MLS is an abbreviation for Master of Library Science, and MLIS is an abbreviation for Master of Library and Information Science. MLS has been around longer than MLIS. However, over the years, most library science programs have added information to the title and more information science courses to the degree requirements to create broader professional credentials for graduates. Additionally, it is up to the college or university to decide which title is most fitting for the program. Most programs that focus mainly on library science are more likely labeled MLS, whereas most programs that offer information courses, including information organization or information management, are labeled as an MLIS degree. 

Some of the similarities between MLS and MLIS programs are the number of credit hours students must take, which is typically 36 credit hours or two years, and the type of coursework they take. An MLIS degree will offer library science courses just like an MLS. An MLS degree will have more library courses, and an MLIS degree will have coursework in information management and organization, and less coursework directly related to librarianship. Both degrees will give you the credentials to work in a library or other information-rich position, especially if the degree is accredited by the American Library Association (ALA).

This article covers who ALA is and what it means for a program to receive accreditation from them. Additionally, it covers three MLIS degree programs and three MLS degree programs. It takes a look at the highlights of what to expect from the program as well as the coursework. This can help you decipher if either degree is for you and show you the difference between the two programs. Keep reading if either degree sounds interesting to you. 

ALA Accreditation for MLS and MLIS Programs

The American Library Association (ALA) will grant accreditation to qualifying MLIS and MLS programs, as well as a Master of Arts in Library Science and other similar titles. As long as the program meets the standards ALA sets, ALA will give the program accreditation. Some of the standards they require include courses in technology, leadership within an information setting, serving diverse communities, and skills in a research application. Among many other standards, the faculty is also under review for accreditation and must have multiple degrees from different institutions, be competent in their field, and have the ability to conduct their own professional research. In other words, if a program is accredited by ALA, students can be sure it will meet the same standards and have some of the same courses. 

ALA-Accredited MLIS Programs

The following degree programs are offered at great U.S. universities. Each program is ranked in the top 20 of the Best Library and Information Studies Programs by U.S. News and World Report. Each program offers plenty of courses in information and informatics as well as courses in librarianship. MLIS programs also tend to offer a wider range of courses and offer more courses in archive studies, technology, informatics, and knowledge management. An MLIS degree will also focus less on librarianship in many of their classes, as this is not the only focus. Courses will also prepare students for careers in health information, digital information, web design, human-computer interaction, and much more. The more our world advances in technology the more content there is and the more change there is in communicating and sharing information. An MLIS degree will teach students how to move with the changes. 

MLIS at the University of Washington 

Out of all types of library and information studies degrees, this program is ranked second in the top 20 in the U.S. by U.S. News and World Report, sixth in the world by U.S. News and World Report, and third in the U.S. by the Shanghai Ranking Consultancy. They offer a flexible curriculum designed to prepare students for any information-intensive industry, including libraries. Additionally, students can enroll online or be residential students. Their faculty is world-renowned and creates professional relationships with the students due to small class sizes and faculty lead research projects. 

Some of the library-focused courses include Design Methods for Librarianship, Future Research of Libraries, Public Libraries, Literacy and Information Behavior in the Arab World, and Indigenous Librarianship in the Digital World. The course on literacy in the Arab world covers librarianship in the Middle East and the history of libraries in Arab Culture to reach the Arab people in the U.S. The information science courses include Data Management, Open Science Data, Information Architecture, Games and Information, Exploring Information Science through BTS and Kpop, and Afrofuturism and Information Technology. 

MLIS at Simmons University 

This master’s program can be taken completely online, in person, or as a combination of online and in-person classes. They offer a wide variety of courses for a flexible degree so that students can focus on their personal interests and gain knowledge for their preferred profession. They offer courses in archives, school librarianship, information management, cultural heritage informatics, literature, librarianship, and children’s services. Some of the courses in Library Science include Special Topics in Children’s Literature and Library Science, Foundations of Library and Information Science, Library Programs and Services for Young Adults, Special Libraries, and Book Publishing and Librarianship. Some of the information science courses include Social Informatics, Information Organization, Information Services for Diverse Users, User Instruction and Information Literacy, and Information Sources and Services.

MLIS Degree at the University of California, Los Angeles 

The University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA), offers an MLIS degree that gives each student comprehensive knowledge and experience in modern librarianship, archives, information science theory, information retrieval, and information technology. They achieve this through in-person instruction, mentorship, internships, teamwork experience, either the work of building a portfolio or completing a thesis with original research, and through the courses they offer. Some of these courses include Information and Society, Ethics Diversity, and Change in Information Professions, History of Books and Literacy Technologies, Intellectual Freedom and Information Policy Issues, Introduction to Economics of Information, Global Media and Information, Artifacts and Cultures, Current Issues in Librarianship, Indigenous Librarianship, Contemporary Children’s Literature, Management of Digital Records, and so much more. 

ALA-Accredited MLS Programs

All MLS programs on this list are designed to prepare students to work in the library or for an information organization. There is less emphasis on informatics and information technology, but informatics and information technology are still discussed as they are relevant to librarianship. All of these programs offer various concentrations to choose from, but they all relate to library science. However, they cover every type of library and each area of librarianship. 

MLS Degree at Indiana University, Bloomington

Indiana University at Bloomington’s library science degree is ranked number nine in the U.S. by U.S. News and their concentration tracks in Archives and Preservation, Digital Librarianship, and Information Systems all ranked number nine or higher in the U.S. At Indiana University,  students can add a year to their undergraduate degree and also earn their MLS degree through the four plus one program. Combining the two degrees makes it much more cost-effective and students earn their master’s in half the time. For the MLS degree, students will take three foundation courses, including User Services and Tools, Representation, and Information Institutions and Their Management. Students can choose one technical course from courses such as Social Media, Digital Libraries, Web Programming, and Database Design. Then students can choose the rest of their courses as electives. 

MLS Degree at Emporia State University

Emporia State University offers an online degree with the flexibility to focus on the area of librarianship students are most interested in and want to work towards in their careers. They offer concentrations in Archival Studies, Health Information Professionals, Leadership and Administration, Outreach and Community Engagement, and Youth Services. An MLS degree with any concentration will take 22 hours of core courses, including Foundations of Library and Information Sciences, Information Seeking Behavior and Reference Services, Organization of Information, Management in Information Organizations, Research in Library and Information Science, Collection Development, and a capstone course. Additionally, all MLS students will take one technology course in either Information Technology, Web Design and Development, or Database Design. 

MLS Degree at the University of Kentucky

This MLS degree offered by the University of Kentucky is fully online, flexible for each student’s schedule, and can be taken part-time or full-time. They also offer opportunities such as study abroad, spring break internships at places like the Library of Congress, School Library Certificate coursework, and the option to add the Graduate Certificate in Instructional Communication. They offer areas of concentration in Health Information, School Librarian Programs, Youth Services and Literature, Academic Libraries, Information Systems, and Public Libraries. Seven courses are electives and can go toward each student’s chosen area of study. Every MLS student will take the core classes, including Information in Society, Information Search, Knowledge Organization, and Management in Info Organizations. Each student will choose one course in technology. An additional technology course may be taken as an elective.